Foto bij 469. - Lucien

My mind is buzzing, my head is spinning, my clothes are sticking to my sweaty body. My throat is dry and sore from talking all day and I'm worried of what my feet will look like after many hours of standing in shoes that were very much not broken in. It's been a long day, but I can't say it was a chore; together with a handful of other influencers and/or celebrities we've been participating in a competition consisting of all kinds of things - an hour on a stationary bike, baking, rope pulling, flower arrangements and so on. Each of us stood for a certain charity, every placement in a game won a certain amount of money, the total of which was donated by said celebrities, and in the end the overall money won by someone is donated to the charity of their choice. Attendees, both in person and online, could place bets on who would win a game, and therefor also add money to the pool. It's been really fun and I had landed myself in second place, donating a fair amount of money to an LGBTQ+ charity with Gabriel and Matthew in mind. Now we've been given an hour to freshen up before we're all hauled off to dinner somewhere, to celebrate the end of a successful day.
I notice when I'm out of the shower. For a second I'm frozen in place. I refresh my phone screen several times to make sure the time is right, because I refuse to believe I've truly been that stupid.
July seventh.
Emma's birthday. I knew it was coming, thought of it every day in the days leading up to it, but today - the actual day off - it has entirely slipped my mind. "Shit shit shit shit," I dart into the hotel room provided, still wrapped in nothing but a towel. I'm trying to remember how time works, and my heart plummets even deeper into the ground when I find that it's exactly seven minutes to midnight in Edinburgh.
"Pick up pick up pick up!" I beg quietly as the phone rings over and over again. I'm on the side of the bed, hunched over with my elbows on my knees. One hand holds up my phone, the other holds up my head. "Please, Emma..." I wouldn't blame her if she didn't pick up; it's been a full day and I haven't mentioned it to her. I even texted her this morning without congratulating her. I ring again when it first goes to voicemail. This time it's picked up on the second ring.
"Hello? Oh!" It was Emma's voice, briefly, but now I hear lots of giggling and the scuffle of feet, yelps of distress and then more laughter. Someone asks 'is it him?', followed by lots of shushing. "Hello?" Emma's voice comes again.
"Em, I'm so sorry." I start off, barely knowing where to begin. "I just.. Today's been overwhelming. I know that's not an excuse but I haven't had my phone all day and it's just messy and I'm so so sorry! I'm going to make it up to you somehow, I promise."
"Lllucien?" Her tongue lolls on the L, and it's followed by a fit of giggles. "Hi. You forgot my birthday."
"I know, and I'm sorry." I say again, stupidly realising that she's probably with friends with a fair amount of alcohol in her blood. "Happy birthday, Emma. I'm just in time, no?"
"Lemme check." She must have pulled her phone away from her ear to do just that, because her voice is suddenly very distant. "Nooo, you can't talk to him! You're just gonna be mad at him!"
"You should be mad at him!"
A different voice, vaguely familiar, says. "He forgot your birthday!"
"Shush, Liz. It's my choice to be mad at him or not.
"Are you?
"
A pause. "Nnnno. Not right now."
"It's hard to be mad after we just passed that thing around.
" A third person that I recognise as Kenna giggles.
"Sssshhh!" Emma shushes with yet another laugh. "I'm... I'm supposed to be checking the time."
With Kenna's words, something else clicks: every now and then, there's another substance Emma enjoys. I've had the pleasure of getting a live show exactly once, but it seems that tonight is the reprise. "Right." She says suddenly, her voice so close and loud that I nearly drop my phone. "'Tis two minutes before midnight. You're on time."
"In that case: happy birthday, my love. It sounds like you're having a great time. I'm really sorry again, but I'm going to let you to it, alright? Before your friends toss your phone into the streets."
"There's no streets here." She says, dead serious. "No cars either. Only..." There's a long pause of considering. "Floating cars, I dunno."
"Floating... What?"
"Well, you know! Floating cars! On the water, like we did last year."
"Em, are you talking about boats?"
I might be on speaker by now, because I hear everyone bursting out laughing and I can't help but join in.
"Boats. Yes." Emma says more confidently now. "We're on a boat."
"Okay, in that case do me a favour and don't drown, okay? I'll call you again in the morning and if you want to yell at me then, you can. God knows I deserve it."
"You do."
"Have fun, Em." I chuckle. "Happy birthday. I love you."
It's not Emma's voice that answers, but yet another one that's familiar but that I can't put my finger on. "She loves you too! Soooo much!"
The connection is broken up and while it didn't seem to bother Emma too much at this given moment, I know that might be different when I call her sober. Which is why I immediately contact Eailyn's American assistant - since Eailyn herself is asleep in France - to check possibilities.
"We can't keep shifting your schedule around, Lucien. You knew what you were getting into, right?" Maria asks, sounding somewhat irritated.
"I know, but it doesn't need to be shifted. I'm in Germany next week, right? Is there a day off?"
"Yes, but we were holding it open to possibly set up a meeting with Leo. Did Eailyn tell you about that?"
"She did, but I think she also told me he wasn't going to be available that day. Could you please check for me?"
Silence except for the clattering of keyboard keys. Then: "You're right, he's not. Then next Wednesday is available."
I close my eyes in relief. It might not be much, but it's the very least I can do after today. "Could you..."
"You can make the nine pm flight on Tuesday night, that'll land you in Edinburgh by ten. That work?" I can hear her smiling, and I let myself fall back on the bed.
"You're an angel, Maria. Yes, that's perfect."

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